sweet Purpose- from Jaee Honey
As a New Orleanian from many low-income communities and a single parent household, my childhood was filled with a powerful spirit of culture, celebration, community and creative expression. As a child, I learned how to still have joy even through hardship and that any material can be used for solutions and storytelling through the process of creative thinking.
I've witnessed how my community cared for each other in the best ways we knew and created life from death through dance, drum and cultural foundations such as formal balls, food pantries, comm. programs, Black and Indigenous centered parades and festivals, block parties, second lines, music, food and more. I grew up in a city filled with community based creative businesses where everyone had a local business and/or some form of outlet that supported community upliftment and resource exchange. And even with all the bright lights of bounce, jazz, color and celebration, I also experienced racial profiling, colorism, sexism abuse, homelessness, gentrification, poor education, city displacement after Katrina and homophobia. I also witnessed a reality of death, gun violence in community spaces and even a constant move from one place to another at a young age.
Through those experiences, my community, our cultural traditions and general creative practice was my only outlet that kept them out of trouble and where I could explore myself. With all the dark and light, the arts held space for me to pour my emotion and find my sense of safety. I explored this through dancing, singing, majorettes, cheerleading, basketball, track & field, visual practice, swimming, spending time with elders, drawing, walking around the quarters, being around my grandparents, experiencing Zulu gatherings, getting lost in music and so much more. Creative practice and community care gave me hope, which was God’s love and grace.
Something I will always say is that "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my community." This is something that holds me in this work and my purpose because it's true. There were so many times where I could’ve been dead or worse. As a community– we looked out for each other and kept each other safe whether it was a hot meal or general act of kindness (southern hospitality).
Over the course of my life, it took a village to raise me-- from teachers, elders, peers, kin and coaches to Ms. Rita (the community daycare lady who watched me as a kid and later my sister – and she is still open to this day) and the lady who would braid my hair and simply talk to me as two humans sharing a connection. I was surrounded by divine warrior women and caring God-comm. lovin men who would care for me as their own. The warrior women in my world were phenomenally sassy and powerful cooks, caretakers, businesswomen, social workers and fashionably gifted beings–even if it didn't look how others would imagine. It made sense for us. They would pick me up from school or dance practice when my momma couldn't get me due to work. We spent time together and when I was around them, I would feel the texture and feeling we get from wearing shea butter oil or lighting incense. I grew up in a culture that guides my life. Each person played a significant role in caring for me and vice versa. They were all my aunties and all they kids were my cousins even if we weren't blood.
Everybody is our cousin, and everybody is family.
Culture and Creative arts gave me hope for a better day when things were not so good. I experienced that hope in others. I began volunteering as a kid and it moved deeply towards this work that I love and that moves through organizing, teaching, arts and social activism. When I began moving into other communities throughout my life that shifted within and beyond the states, such as Houston, Atlanta, New York, China, and now California, I began to notice the intersections of similarity and difference between cultures and communities.
Even though the times have changed, collectively the essence and spirit still live in each of us and our communities; we just have to remember it and rediscover new pathways that can guide us there. As I dived deeper into those connections, I started to recognize the similarities between low-income communities in many places around the world and the ways we’ve all explored cultural celebration as liberation even through survival-- the stand against governmental and societal abuse of power.
Due to my experiences, I am able to see both sides of community, (the divine and the human). The highest vibration of us and even the lowest we can get. This guides my journey in continuing to learn about the community as a whole and the ways I can continue to share what I learn along the way that uplifts and builds collectively. I can only share honestly and naturally— that is my love and the celebration of people.
We all experience forms of injustice, and my story is no different than many others, including yours. The purpose is to honor each and every individual, community and culture in this movement. To build from there. In order to keep building, we must continue to return to our ancestors and elders in order to remember why the journey towards liberation is so vital and must continue.
The human of it all. The village of us.
Community and culture make a space flourish – my purpose is to never stop fighting for that – until we are all free.
That is the legacy we leave.